According to the U.S. Department of Justice, one out of every six violent crimes occurs in the workplace. These crimes include assaults, rapes, robberies, and—on rare occasions—homicides. Employees, customers, and third-party individuals are increasingly acting out in ways that devastatingly alter their lives and the lives of their coworkers. These issues are particularly concerning in retail establishments as they are more accessible to the public than many other workplaces given their hours of operation and direct interaction with customers. A recent report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that retail workers were disproportionately subjected to workplace violence. Although retail workers comprise 9 percent of the workforce in the United States, they account for 13 percent of all workplace violence incidents and an alarming 27 percent of all workplace homicides. Now, more than ever, retailers should consider implementing a comprehensive plan designed to both prevent and address violence in the workplace. A good workplace violence plan features five distinct elements.

1. Develop a Crisis Management Team

Retailers should develop a “Crisis Management Team” (CMT). The CMT should be comprised of individuals from the human resources, safety, and security disciplines within an organization. The CMT should also be charged with developing and implementing company strategy and protocols for dealing with violence. It should be consulted as soon as there is a suspicion of violence, a threat of violence, or an actual act of violence in the workplace.

2. Develop or Revise an Antiviolence Policy

Organizations should develop or revise their antiviolence policies to make the company's stance against violence clear and to specifically lay out the consequences for violations. The listed consequences for violating an antiviolence policy might include discharge and reports of any violent behavior to the appropriate authorities. An antiviolence policy should also address workplace bullying, which is sometimes the precursor to workplace violence. This policy should‎ be widely communicated and consistently enforced in order to have the desired impact of preventing catastrophic events of violence.

3. Train Management-Level Employees

Train your managers and supervisors on recognizing and addressing conduct that leads to workplace violence. As the eyes and ears of your organizations, your managers and supervisors are the front lines of defense and best positioned to respond to violence and bullying immediately. This training will give your managers and supervisors the tools and perspective to address violent incidents and behaviors before they escalate.

These employees need to be educated on the different types of violence that typically occur in workplace environments and the behavioral markers commonly associated with potentially violent actors.

They also need to be educated about recognizing and preventing workplace bullying. Bullying in the workplace is somewhat harder to address in the retail industry since retailers frequently do not have onsite human resources personnel, have a smaller number of employees at one location, have managers that sometimes focus more on the bottom line than on the employees, and may have employees who are in the workplace for the very first time.  

4. Third-Party Compliance

Employers should require that customers, clients, and vendors comply with their antiviolence policies. ‎These third parties should be apprised of the antiviolence policies of the companies with which they work and be informed of the expectations regarding their behavior. They should also expressly agree to be bound by these policies and to accept the consequences of noncompliance.

5. Active Violence Planning

Finally, you should have an active violence plan akin to the plans that you have for fires and weather emergencies. ‎Employees are three times more likely to be confronted with a violent act than a fire. Frequently, however, employees are unaware of the steps to take to protect themselves, get information, or seek assistance. This is especially likely in the retail industry, where nearly one-fourth of the workforce is between the ages of 16 and 24. According to Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Dr. David Michaels, workers under the age of 25 are twice as likely to be injured at work and are typically less aware of their workplace rights.

The CMT should take the lead on developing and disseminating robust active violence protocols that maximize prevention and safety and are crafted with the specific dynamics of the retail industry in mind.

Conclusion

Violence in the workplace is a multi-faceted and complex issue. Our best approach to violence includes promoting awareness‎, preventing escalation of violent behaviors, and developing strategies for dealing with violent incidents when they happen. While we may not be able to completely eliminate workplace violence, we can certainly decrease the number of incidents and dramatically decrease the number of people harmed.